The assessment of the extension system in Bihar, India, was conducted in October 2012. The final report is available via thislink or for download below.
The Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) project conducted a rapid scoping mission to examine pluralistic extension provisioning in Bihar State, India, at the request of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) India. The aim was to develop recommendations for strengthening extension and advisory services in support of the Improved Rice-based Rain-fed Agricultural Systems (IRRAS) project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The fieldwork for the assessment was carried out from September 24 to October 5, 2012, and included in-depth interviews with Department of Agriculture (DoA) staff members at all levels, international and national non-governmental organization (NGO) staff members, farmers, agricultural researchers and private sector representatives. To the extent possible, interviews were carried out on the “shop floors” of the various respondents, allowing the MEAS team to visit farms, state-, district- and block-level extension offices, research and extension facilities, input dealers and their suppliers. The mission aimed to understand the institutional and organizational landscape, identify the principal actors, ascertain respective resource levels, targets, operational modalities, inter-organizational relationships, areas of conflict and gaps. On the basis of the information collected and observations, the team identified a number of key issues in extension provisioning in the state where the IRRAS project can make valued contributions in strengthening a more sustainable and market-driven system of extension and advisory services.
Opportunities and Recommendations
The assessment provides recommendations related to the IRRAS project’s primary objectives to “…establish an adaptive research pipeline…” and “…a knowledge exchange network…” (CRS, 2012), with some additional comments concerning perceived opportunities and threats.
Krishi Vigyan Kendras as the Hub for the Adaptive Research Pipeline
The most appropriate structure to target with project investments in strengthening the technology adaptation pipeline are the Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs). The mandate and activity profile of technology refinement, validation, demonstration and capacity building of the KVKs reflect the IRRAS objectives, and the KVKs’ positioning at the district level with deep ties to both the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and State Agricultural Universities (SAUs) and the field programs of the DoA (especially at the level of SMSs and FAs) make them ideally positioned for current demonstration/dissemination activities. That said, the KVKs’ varying levels of infrastructure and staffing constrain their capacity to engage as true partners, and alternative solutions will need to be sought until the KVKs are able to fully participate in fieldwork and dissemination efforts with the Subject Matter Specialists (SMSs) and Farmer Advisors (FAs) within the district.
Engaging the Input Dealers
The other major force that can potentially be mobilized in assisting technological change are the estimated 24,000+ retail and wholesale input dealers within the state. To do so effectively, and with an eye for investing in enduring and scalable impact, we advise a multi-phased process. The first step is to ascertain whether and to what degree input dealers’ self-interests can be tapped into in attempting to strengthen their capacities as advisory service providers. The National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE) has implemented a one-year diploma training program for input dealers. Since its inception in 2004/05, more than 2,600 input dealers have been trained in Andhra Pradesh and three other states. CRS would be well advised to commission a study comparing changes to the volume and profitability of input dealers participating in this training program with those that have not. A subsample of clients of each dealer type should be included in the survey to gauge differences in their perceptions of the change in the breadth and quality of advisory service communications that they receive from trained versus non-trained input dealers.
Drawing upon lessons from Pradan’s influencing of policy-makers in investing in SRI (System of Rice Intensification) technology promotion, CRS should consider investing in efforts to cultivate buy-in of key individuals and organizations to conduct the input dealer study, and to begin working with local partners, such as the Bihar Agricultural Management and Extension Training Institute (BAMETI) and the SAUs, to carry out the study. If the study identifies positive impacts on diploma program participants’ profitability, the next step would be to begin designing a program for Bihar state with MANAGE’s assistance. The offer to underwrite the first cohort of participants from the IRRAS project’s target districts, in particular those areas associated with on-farm demonstrations, would be the next logical step, to be followed with an aggressive public awareness and promotion campaign (especially via radio) as the participating dealers near graduation. The importance of cultivating buy-in from state-level entities lies in triggering a broader capacity-building investment that would not only ensure that IRRAS project objectives are met but that they will be sustained and spread beyond the project’s target districts and project duration.
Each of the core technologies targeted by the IRRAS adaptation pipeline efforts – variety demonstration and soil nutrient management – requires its own uptake strategies that address the challenges of increasing immediate availability during the project’s lifetime, done in such a way that they will be sustained long after the project ends. In both instances (seeds and soil fertility), strengthening the private sector’s involvement and capabilities will be key. Each technology type presents its own challenges. The seed availability issue is perhaps the more delicate because there are state regulations governing the certification and sale of seeds. That said, the DoA’s Village Seed and Crash seed dissemination programs have set a precedent of acknowledging and relying on farmers’ capacities to multiply, exchange and save seeds. Because of its physiological characteristics, with very low out-crossing, rice is the perfect crop with which to promote local seed multiplication and sales. Though some level of locally produced seed could be envisioned to pass through input dealers, another strategy is to work with the KVKs and DoA extension staff members to train and provide backstopping to individuals and farmer organizations in establishing commercial seed enterprises. There is a good body of experience, both within India and from other regions (e.g., Beye et al., 2011a, b, c) on the local multiplication and sale of rice seeds that could be used to jump start such an effort. The KVKs and SMSs/FAs, perhaps with funding from BAMETI, would be the appropriate institutional structures to engage in developing such an effort, which would both achieve immediate project goals and establish an institutional base to help maintain the effort after the project terminates.
The second technological target area, improved soil fertility management, will benefit from a different strategic uptake pathway. One way of linking the technology adaptation pipeline and enhanced capabilities of trained input supply dealers would be through developing a Bihar calibrated version of the IRRI Nutrient Manager software. A locally adapted Nutrient Manager, once developed, could be made available, with additional training and backstopping offered by KVK partners, to input dealers graduating from the MANAGE training program as one of the tools they offer customers to help them make important soil amendment purchasing decisions.
A Knowledge Exchange Platform
To help guide its networking investments, the IRRAS project will need to settle on which outcomes it would like to achieve, for each will require a different strategy. Two opportunities in particular warrant consideration. The first is at the state level. The assessment team observed that currently there is no a state-level platform for civil society actors to interact and share their experiences. The lack of a higher-level exchange platform essentially leaves each organization to its own means in identifying and deploying new technologies in its field programs. Even the most effective and best-resourced programs will be less efficient when working in isolation than if it had regular opportunities to exchange lessons learned with a diverse group of similar organizations. CRS, through the IRRAS project, could take leadership in launching such a platform to which representatives from ICAR, the SAUs, BAMETI and other organizations might be invited (e.g., through formation of a Knowledge Exchange Advisory Committee).
The second area where networking investments are needed is at the district level. There is a strong argument to be made for focusing the networking efforts within the Agricultural Technology Management Agencies’ (ATMA) Farmer Information and Advisory Centers (FIACs). The risk, however, is that the FIACs do not appear to be functioning at the moment, and with the migration of the FIACs into the e-Kisan (e-Kisan Bhawan), the majority of which have yet to be constructed and equipped, some time may be required before they are truly settled and up and running. The need for short-term actions would favor investments in establishing the KVKs as the institutional host for this function. A purposeful assessment of the status of the e-Kisan and FIAC in the target districts, as well as the KVKs, would be advised before a decision is made. In any event, the project should not establish a stand-alone networking platform (i.e., not linked with either a KVK or FIAC). Such a platform would be entirely dependent on project funds for its functioning and would likely stop at the end of the project or shortly thereafter. The best chance for establishing an enduring networking function would be to build a networking facility into one of the enduring DoA structures, and to invest available resources in an effort to establish the practice of important partners coming together during the remaining period of project financing. As a means of further strengthening the networking function, the project’s communication efforts — printed materials, use of videos and broadcasting — should be, to the extent possible, built into its investments in establishing the knowledge exchange platform.
Climate Change Risk, Vulnerability and Resiliency Assessment
The production ecologies and environmental conditions targeted by the IRRAS project warrant explicit attention to climate change impacts. Through the identification and dissemination of submergence- and drought-tolerant crop varieties and complementary management practices, the IRRAS project is making important contributions in helping farmers and key service providers to prepare for future conditions. The project can make further contributions in this critical area by helping key actors prepare longer-term climate change adaptation strategies. A phased approach is recommended, starting with the identification and characterization of the major risks associated with climate change. Secondly, for each of the risks identified, assess the vulnerability of various populations in different locations at varying intervals going forward. If done well, such an investment could provide the groundwork for statewide investments in preparing climate change adaptation plans.